Sermon “Holy War”
Amanullah Haider, an Afghan suicide bomber left a video of his last words before he took the lives of 12 soldiers. His was just one of many suicide attacks over the past decades in that country. In the 1980s there was an average of three a year, in the 1990’s one a month, in the next decade one a week and now it is one a day. Amanullah’s last words on the tape are: “The way I am going is the right way, follow me. This is the way of victory. God willing, we will see each other in paradise.”
Yeshuah-ben-Joseph used different words “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near! Repent, and believe in the good news…follow me.”
The call to holy war has a long Biblical tradition. Beginning in the book of Judges, “Ehud said to them, “Follow me; for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So, they went down after him, and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites, and allowed no one to cross over. At that time, they killed about ten thousand of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; no one escaped.” (Judges 3:28-29, NRSV)
The call of a strong charismatic leader to holy war continues through Gideon who was a judge, Saul who became the first King and Mattathias a priest who lived 170 years before Jesus.
Those who are called to holy war give their whole lives. Listen to the text from Paul again, “I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1Corinthians 7:29-31, NRSV)
It is a call to holy war, but with a difference—the Jonah difference.
God says to Jonah, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.”
Now, in case you think this might be as simple as Michael Moore making a documentary film on gun control — Ancient Nineveh was just across the river from the Iraqi city of Mosul, which was controlled by ISIS until last summer. The majority opinion when the book of Jonah was written was that the only solution for Nineveh was total annihilation, holy war, holocaust.
Although Nineveh was conquered by the Medes in 612 BCE, this story would have been heard, when it was told a hundred years later, as the people who had destroyed Jerusalem. What should be our attitude to the people that destroyed our great city?
The basic message is that God doesn’t care about your status in life, God doesn’t care about where you live, doesn’t care about what you did in the past, in fact, God doesn’t even care if you once destroyed his chosen people. God only cares that you conduct yourself in a moral way even if you have to repent/change to do so.
Bruce Feiler points out that this is a Biblical message that is continuous. Beginning with Joshua, God shows that behaviour is more important than land. Later, beginning with David, God shows that behaviour is more important than power. And in this story, God shows that behaviour is more important than nationality.
The call to Jonah represents the highest call of the prophets: God belongs to everyone, even if God’s universality offends some people who might want to keep God all to themselves.
The call of Jesus is to everyone. God is nearer than you thought, you can now change your life to the way God intended it to be in the first place. Notice that this is not a command, but rather a promise.
The problem is that God’s primary call to us isn’t about personal piety or holiness or good citizenship or about serving on church committees. That would be too easy.
God’s primary call to us is to do the really hard things, things of which the mere thought tempts us, like Jonah, to run away as fast as we can.
The easy parts of our call don’t frighten or confuse us. It is the difficult parts—standing for justice and mercy, rather than responding with indifference; acting out of compassion and love, rather than fear and hate; being the people God created us to be, rather than being swallowed up by the world.
These are the difficult challenges of our faithfulness to our call. And we like Jonah have a difficult turning back to God to do what we have been called to do. We have all, at one time or another, been swallowed by the whale of indecision, reluctance or fear. The reality is, we can never answer our calls without turning to God, without asking God to strengthen and uphold us, or without feeling God’s grace and love pour over us. Maybe that is the point after all—to recognize that God’s call is a call, that God will help us to answer, if we put our trust in God, rather than our human abilities.
The call of Jesus was described by Albert Schweitzer in this way, “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands, and to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toil, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.”